UPDATE: Despite repeated enquiries, Mr. Baines never replied to my questions. I eventually received a short reply from Editor-in-Chief Patrica Graham, who said:
Mr. Baines did not lie and any suggestion to the contrary would be defamatory. In answer to your questions: The Vancouver Sun stands by the stories.
That’s not a particularly complete answer to my questions, but it does indicate that the Sun claims that Tom Williams is lying, and didn’t in fact offer to connect Mr. Baines with any of GiveMeaning’s donors.
But every time a donation is made, GiveMeaning issues a tax receipt, which means Canadian taxpayers are subsidizing the donation. I think that, in such an unregulated environment, we have a responsibility to scrutinize all charitable endeavours to ensure that we are getting decent value for our dollar.
The piece is full of cheap shots, misrepresentation and lazy journalism. Here are a few questions I’m hoping Mr. Baines will address:
- Mr. Baines claims that Tom “refused to identify any of these donors.” In his blog post, Tom says that he “offered for him to speak with some of GiveMeaning Foundation’s donors and yet he didn’t take me up on this.” Which is true, and if Tom is correct, why did Mr. Baines lie about it?
- Early in the article Mr. Baines calls an anecdote that Tom tells “unconfirmable”. Later Mr. Baines writes: “My sense is that…most registered charities or foundations publicly report where they are placing their money.” Instead of relying on “his sense”, why didn’t Mr. Baines contact an expert in the field and confirm his assumption? It seems highly dubious to complain about a story being unconfirmable, and then not bother to check his own facts.
- Along the same lines, Mr. Baines characterizes “many” of the GiveMeaning project charities as “extremely obscure”. Again, where’s the fact-checking on this? Mr. Baines names cites WILD ARC as one of these “extremely obscure” causes. I used this popular web search engine called ‘Google’, and discovered that it’s a BC SPCA wildlife rehab centre that’s been around for a decade and treated over 14,000 animals. The other charity that Mr. Baines names is a school in Africa with an office here in Delta. If Mr. Baines wanted to verify its scope, all he needed to do was pick up the phone and call the suburbs. That’s not to mention that leveling a criticism like ‘obscure’ at a charity is absurd. Most of the charitable good in the world gets done by charities that Mr. Baines (and you and I) have never heard of.
- Finally, Mr. Baines suggests that GiveMeaning has been spending too much of its initial funding on administration. He rightfully trots out GiveMeaning’s annual reports, but he does so in isolation. Why doesn’t he contact similar organizations (I’m thinking here of, say, Kiva, PledgeBank and the like) to compare their startup budgets?
David Baines is a columnist, but that doesn’t absolve him from the responsibilities of his profession. I’ve sent a note to him asking that he respond to these questions. I’ve also CC’d his editor-in-chief, Patricia Graham. If you’re concerned about quality of his work on this article, I encourage you to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org as well.